By John Bassetti
For the last two years, Ashley Cuba has posed a threat to opponents with her scoring ability on the Pittsburgh women’s soccer.
The 2008 Cardinal Mooney graduate has led the Panthers in scoring the last two seasons. The notoriety has led to an NCAA All-American nomination as well.
“It was just an honor for her to be nominated,” said Nancy Balog-Cuba, Ashley’s mother.
Although the numbers don’t sound staggering, Cuba’s seven goals as a freshman and six this past season as a sophomore have made her a target.
“Because I came on strong my first year, teams, especially in the Big East, knew who I was. So they clamped down,” Cuba said. “They say that a sophomore slump follows.”
Only it didn’t.
This past fall, the Panthers (7-11-2) scored 21 goals compared to 17 in 2009.
“We scored just as much this year [as a team], but the goals were more distributed,” said Cuba, who led the Panthers in goals (6), points (12) and shots-on-goal percentage (.449).
Her 49 shots in 2010 trailed team leader Liz Carroll by one.
Cuba had half of her season’s goals via a hat trick in the 2010 season opener against Buffalo. The performance earned her a Big East honor roll recognition.
She was also voted among the conference’s top 20 players this past fall. As a freshman, Cuba led Pitt in points and made the All-Big East rookie team.
Also in 2009 when Pitt finished 8-5-5, the Panthers played to a scoreless tie against Notre Dame, which won this season’s national championship by beating Stanford. Some of Pitt’s wins were over Akron, Louisville, Villanova, Providence and UConn.
Pitt also plays an abbreviated spring schedule of about five exhibition games, during which players improve on the weakest part of their game.
Cuba’s goal as a forward — to score — hasn’t changed much since she arrived at Pitt.
“They just want me to be a leader, both vocally and by example,” said the 20-year-old Cuba, who will return to Pitt as a junior when the second semester begins in January.
She has a 3.1 grade point average in anthropology with her sights set on graduate school for forensics. Cuba has been working out on her own since the season ended.
“I still can’t wait for next season,” she said. “I work hard off the field to get that extra push to get ready for next year. The behind-the-scenes stuff really helps. Extra work on my own has helped.”
One area of improvement in her college game has been defensive positioning, which she described as “putting myself in the right spot at the right time and cutting the opponent’s passing lane off.”
Her advice to high school girls who currently play soccer is to “work hard in class as well as off the field.”
There’s a lesson she’d like to pass along.
“The game is more mental than physical, so keep your head,” she said. “Don’t lose control and don’t think negatively because that’s probably the worst thing you can do.”
Six players will be gone from 2010 and another decided to redshirt, but the team’s core should be intact. And the camaraderie is something Cuba enjoys.
“We get along well,” said Cuba.
After playing without a true home field, Pitt will christen an on-campus stadium in the fall with a tournament. And Cuba said she’s excited to get playing on it.
“We used to drive one-half hour just to play home games,” Cuba said of a rugby field in Indianola, Pa., in Butler County.
Cuba’s mother said it should help with the fan support, too.
“It was hard to get students to come from 35 minutes away to support the women,” Balog-Cuba said. “It should get better.”